Benitez hoping to keep Moses and Mikel for crunch cup ties before they jet off to join Nigeria in the Africa Cup of Nations
15:53 GMT, 27 December 2012
Rafa Benitez wants to keep John Obi Mikel and Victor Moses for their cup ties against Southampton and Swansea before releasing them for the Africa Cup of Nations.
Mikel and Moses, integral players since Benitez took control at Stamford Bridge, are in the Nigeria squad which was due to report for a pre-tournament training camp in Portugal today.
The Chelsea pair have been granted permission to stay in London until after the New Year but Benitez is negotiating to keep them for as long as possible as his team become embroiled in a cluttered fixture list.
Africa-calling: Both Moses and Mikel have had regular first team football under interim boss Rafael Benitez
The Blues launch their defence of the FA Cup at Southampton on January 5, four days before the first leg of the Capital One Cup semi-final at home to Swansea.
Interim manager Benitez accepts he is unlikely to have them around by the time they play Stoke in the Barclays Premier League on January 12.
'The tournament starts on the 19th, so they will go one or two weeks before,' he said.
'Maybe we can manage to keep them a little bit longer. We will talk with them. They know sometimes the players do not need to go early. But at least one week before the 19th, they have to be there.'
Options open: Benitez has several others who could fill in with Moses and Mikel gone
Nigeria’s first game of the tournament in South Africa is on Janaury 21st against Burkina Faso. The final is on February 10, four days before Chelsea are due to play in Prague in the Europa League.
Juan Mata celebrated a landmark game and goal in his Chelsea career before declaring he was hungry for even more.
Yesterday's 1-0 win at Norwich was Spain forward Mata's 50th appearance in the Barclays Premier League and came less than a season a half after he joined the Blues.
Carrow Road also witnessed his 13th goal in all competitions this term, already bettering his tally from the whole of the last campaign.
Rarely has a foreign player made such a seamless adjustment to English football as former Valencia star Mata, who has enjoyed the unwavering confidence of all three Chelsea managers he has played under.
Flying through the rain: Mata has outshone all his Chelsea teammates this campaign
Last season, he featured in 34 of Chelsea's 38 league games, while this term he has played a part in 16 of 18.
despite his 50 matches being the most of any outfield player at the
club over the same period, Mata had no intention of allowing his
team-mates to catch him up.
want to play more, I want to keep playing, keep training, keep enjoying
this club and this Premier League,' he told Chelsea TV.
describing his goals tally as 'not bad', he added: 'I'm very happy with
how it's going – the season – for me and for the team and I just have
to keep working.'
When Mata works, almost invariably so do Chelsea.
Unstoppable: Mata is just goal behind Fernando Torres and becoming Chelsea's to goalscorer of the season
His six goals in eight games have co-incided with the club's revival under interim boss Rafael Benitez.
Mata's dip in form before that also tallied with the Chelsea slump that saw Roberto Di Matteo sacked.
the club were becoming too reliant on Mata's goals and assists under Di
Matteo and it is crucial they do not fall into the same trap again.
appears to recognise the need to spread the load around the team, his
decision to move David Luiz from defence into midfield once again
proving inspired yesterday.
Mata said of the Brazilian's transformation: 'I'm not surprised.
'I know that he's a very, very good player, top player.
'He's able to play in different positions, at centre-back, in midfield.
'He's a complete football player.'
Mata stressed the importance of Chelsea keeping a clean sheet yesterday in what was only their second 1-0 win of the season.
'Our four defenders were really good,' he said.
'All the team played like a compact team, like Rafa wanted.'
He added of his goal: 'The most important thing is that it was the winning goal.'
winner saw Chelsea close to within four points of second-placed
Manchester City with a game in hand, while remaining 11 behind runaway
leaders Manchester United.
Mata said: 'These three points gave to us a lot of confidence to be closer to the Manchester clubs.'